Research Says Social Interaction Is 'Less Rewarding For Cocaine Users'

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Led by a research team from the University of Zurich, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new study shows that treatment for cocaine addicts should also include therapy in social training. But why?

The study indicated that people who use cocaine regularly (primarily cocaine addicts) are more likely to have problems feeling empathy for others, and often don't enjoy social interaction. Those who do not use cocaine regularly tend to feel greater pleasure from social interactions in comparison.

Cocaine is very popular drug in many parts of the world including the US. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that were 1.9 million past-month cocaine users in the US in 2008. The effects of cocaine use include short-term energy boosts, euphoria and a general sense of well-being. But drug-researchers have also wondered whether or not cocaine affects the user's social skills. The results of the research study were the following:

  • Cocaine users had difficulty understanding the perspective of others
  • Showed less emotional empathy
  • Had difficulty detecting emotions from others
  • Claimed to have few social interactions
  • Did not show interest in social interactions

Researchers believe that cocaine users avoid social interaction because they don't find pleasure in those activities, and find little reward in them.

Weaker activity in the "medial orbitfrontal cortex" part of the brain is linked to fewer social interactions in people, which was found prominently in cocaine users. "Cocaine users perceive social exchange as less positive and rewarding compared to people who do not use this stimulant," says Boris Quednow, one of the researchers at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Zurich.

These behaviors may lead cocaine addicts to lose supportive social contacts over time, such as close friends and relatives, causing the addiction to be harder to manage and can even make the addiction worse. The user may become a recluse in and continue to abuse cocaine more and more because of this lack of social interaction.

The end-result of the study concluded that when it comes to treating cocaine addicts for their addiction, social interaction should be re-learned as a form of therapy. "Social skills, such as empathy, mental perspective talking, and prosocial behavior, should be enhance the efficacy and sustainability of the treatment."

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